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Eighty meetings and events industry leaders from all over the world joined 36 politicians and government officials for the IMEX Politicians Forum yesterday, which took place at the Villa Kennedy (a Ro

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Eighty meetings and events industry leaders from all over the world joined 36 politicians and government officials for the IMEX Politicians Forum yesterday, which took place at the Villa Kennedy (a Rocco Forte Hotel) and also welcomed Sir Rocco Forte as a first-time guest speaker.

Politicians and government officials attended from 16 countries in total – the largest number to date: Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, and the UK. They were joined by meetings industry leaders from 25 countries.

In his capacity as Chairman of the Business & Events Partnership UK, Michael Hirst, OBE, once again moderated the Forum. Rod Cameron, Director of International Development for the Association of Convention Centres (AIPC), set the stage with a brief look back over progress made in the 10 years since IMEX has been acting as an annual focal point for joint industry efforts to influence and inform politicians the world over.

The forum started with an open session held at the trade show in the morning, which featured a video case study about San Diego’s success in establishing itself as “the biotech city of the world.” Presented by President of the San Diego Convention Center Corporation, Carol Wallace, and CEO Steven Johnson, the video offered an extensive interview with San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, the man widely credited with turning the city’s fortunes around and creating 40,000 new jobs in the process. As such, it made a vivid and compelling case for other destinations to consider – or reconsider – the importance of creating a coherent brand and of positioning themselves for long-term success within the meetings and conventions market.

This was followed by a second case study presentation by Isabel Bardinet, CEO of The European Society of Cardiology. Bardinet pressed her audience to understand the lasting legacy and positive impact made on a destination when a conference such as the one held annually by her association comes to town. In explaining how, why, and when the decision is made to place what is considered to be the world’s premier annual conference on the science, management, and prevention of cardiovascular disease in any given city, she invited forum delegates to “see the market from our point of view.” In so doing, she laid out its tangible return on investment for event owners, delegates, sponsors, stakeholders, and, above all, the local business community, and urged local government officials to understand the real benefits that such large events produce and their far-reaching consequences for many sectors of local society.

In the final case study of the morning, Stéphan Delaux, Deputy Mayor of Bordeaux and Vice President of France Congres, explained the role that a federation of elected officials can play at the national level and how that role can translate into a rise in business events, economic output, and international recognition.

Following a guided tour of the show floor, when politicians and government officials were invited to view their destination stands, as well as take in the sheer size of the trade show as representative of a powerful global market, the group gathered once again to take part in a private debate. Philippe Fournier, President of the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC); Dieter Hardt-Straymer, President of European Cities Marketing (ECM); and Edgar Hirt, President of the Association of International Palais de Congres each made opening remarks. Also attending were Nick De Bois MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Events in the UK, and Kevin Murphy, CEO Excel Conference Centre, London, both of whom are involved in the Britain for Events campaign. Also speaking passionately about the importance of the meetings industry and its ability to act as a catalyst for future growth was Gloria Guevara Manzo, Minister of Tourism for Mexico (and member of President Calderon’s Cabinet.)

Commenting on the day, Ms. Penilla Gunther, Member of Parliament, Sweden, said: “It was good to hear other politicians talk about the importance of measuring the results of any government initiatives to influence them – and also about the need to put in place the infrastructure and education for the industry.”

Ms. Tjasa Ficko, Deputy Mayor for the City of Ljubljana, Slovenia, stated: “For a young politician like myself, it has been a privilege to gain an insight into the industry, especially regarding issues such as investment, and the economic and visibility opportunities that represents. I have a lot to take back and implement. It was an absolutely positive experience.”

IMEX Group Chairman, Ray Bloom, summed up this year’s forum: “Changing perceptions and increasing understanding among our political representatives remains an important task for the whole of the meetings industry. It is not something that any single association, company, or organization can achieve on its own. I am pleased that, once again, IMEX has been able to bring the industry together for an open, intelligent, and informed debate, and I’m even more pleased to see more and more destinations around the globe producing strong, credible data that makes the case for not just supporting but actively encouraging engagement with the meetings and events industry.”

A series of video interviews from the IMEX Politicians Forum will be made available in the near future on the International Meetings Review website and in its partner publications. A detailed report of the day’s discussions, findings, and recommendations will also be published later this year.

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